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Is trading up a realistic option for the Steelers in the 2023 NFL Draft?

While most fans are talking about trading back to obtain more picks, could the Steelers move up and get a player they deem to be worthy of such a maneuver?

NFL Draft Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers under previous General Manager (GM) Kevin Colbert didn’t like to make trades in the early portions of the draft. This would be trading either way, up or back. During the Colbert era, he only traded back one time in the first round, and that was in 2001 where the team ended up taking Casey Hampton out of the University of Texas.

While they’ve traded up a few times, most recently was the 2019 trade with the Denver Broncos to select Devin Bush out of the University of Michigan, it has left a sour taste in many Steelers fans’ mouths about moving up in a big way.

In 2023 the Steelers don’t have a lot of draft picks, but they do have a lot of early picks. Three in the Top 50, to be exact. While most fans are thinking the team should trade a pick, mainly the 32nd pick received from the Chicago Bears for Chase Claypool, to move back and obtain more picks, is moving up an option?

A recent ESPN article from Football Outsiders suggests this might be the draft the Steelers do make a move to get a player they deem to be can’t-miss.

Here is what they had to say:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Use a second-round pick to move up in the draft

With Kenny Pickett established as at least a competent quarterback (51.5 QBR in 2022), the Steelers have a good young, cheap core on offense: Pickett, George Pickens, Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth. Where they are lacking, and have been for a while now, is on the offensive line. A boost of elite talent upfront could reposition the team near the top of the AFC once again. The Steelers aren’t in great position to sign free agents, however, given their usual spot right up against the cap.

Pittsburgh somehow found the Bears to not only take Chase Claypool but give up a second-round pick for him. Incredibly, that pick is the first in Round 2, No. 32 overall, an enormously valuable spot in the draft. (Three AFC North players we advocate trading — Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb and Tee Higgins — were drafted 31st, 35th and 33rd overall, respectively.) That allows Pittsburgh a wealth of options with which to attack not only its offensive line needs but also to find another pass-rusher (for all the brilliance of T.J. Watt, the Steelers were only 14th in adjusted sack rate in 2022) or add to a shallow secondary.

Standing pat with three picks in the top 49 is the safe route. But that’s the rub. Because Mike Tomlin yet again steered a flawed team to a winning record (9-8), Pittsburgh picks 17th in the first round and 49th in the second — not exactly slam-dunk draft slots.

This season there are several good, but not necessarily automatic, prospects upfront. That could be a blessing, however, as the Steelers won’t have to move up far to get the likes of Paris Johnson Jr. of Ohio State or Broderick Jones of Georgia (Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski is the lone player likely out of range, though he isn’t close to Penei Sewell or former teammate Rashawn Slater as a prospect). The 49th pick would suffice to leap in front of the Jets at 13 for their preferred choice. (By the way, Pittsburgh hasn’t drafted a tackle in the first round since 1996.)

Or Pitt could wield that 32nd pick and go get Christian Gonzalez of Oregon or Devon Witherspoon of Illinois, the consensus top corners. Or even a dominant edge rusher like Tyree Wilson of Texas Tech if he falls into the latter part of the top ten. So long as Tomlin is around, the chance at truly elite, can’t-miss talent will be rare. The Steelers should use this opportunity to move up and grab a top prospect.

When you are talking about the 2023 Steelers and their current situation, many fans will constantly want to paint the team into a corner as if Colbert was still the GM. In other words, suggesting the team will absolutely do what they’ve always done, but that might be a hasty generalization. As we all know, Colbert isn’t at the helm anymore, Omar Khan now has the tag of GM.

Will Khan do things differently? I think we’d all be foolish to suggest he won’t try and put his mark, and spin, on the position in a multitude of ways. Maybe it’s how they structure contracts or being more willing to trade picks. Our own Andrew Wilbar heard a lot of chatter while attending the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine from league sources who believe Khan will be more inclined to trade picks than his predecessor. Take that for what it’s worth.

If the Steelers did choose to trade up in the draft, who would you want them to go and get? Who is that prospect the team should target? If they don’t trade up, but do trade back, what kind of compensation should the team consider? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for NFL free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft.

These type of Steelers rumors were the main focus on my Monday “Let’s Ride” podcast. You can listen to the episode in the player below: